Charles Wysocki was born in 1928 in Detroit Michigan. From the time he was a little tot, he always wanted to be an artist. His father Charles Sr. was an immigrant from Poland who worked on the assembly line at Ford Motor Co. for over 35 years. His father was not thrilled about his artist aspirations. Most of his encouragement came from his mother Mary. She fully supported his artistic tendencies. My father went to high school at Cass Technical High School and focused on their art program. For a time he worked as an apprentice in Detroit art studios. Then Uncle Sam snatched him up.
Charles was drafted in 1950 during the Korean War. He should have been sent to Korea where he may have met his fate, but right before he was to be sent out, he was granted a leave of absence to visit his brother Harry who was very ill. After he returned to hook up with his unit, the powers that be said, “You’re going to Germany.” What a break for the old man! He was stationed in Hanau, West Germany from 1951-1952. After his two-year obligation in the Army he decided to trade in his rifle for a paintbrush.
After leaving the Army, Charles attended Art Center in Los Angeles (it is now in Pasadena) on the G.I. Bill. After completing his studies, and majoring in design and advertising illustration, Charles joined the staff of freelance artists at McNamera Brothers in Detroit in 1955. He lived at home with his parents during this time. Missing the West Coast, and not wanting to be, in his words, a “Momma’s Boy” Charles moved to Los Angeles in 1959. There he formed an advertising agency with three other artists called “Group West” and was very successful doing freelance commercial artwork. Some of his clients included General Tire, Unocal, Carnation, Chrysler, United California Bank, Otis elevator company, and Dow Chemical Co. to name a few. During this time he won numerous awards for his illustrative talents. Then he met my mother, and she unleashed the primitive artist that was buried within him.
My parents met at an ad agency in Los Angeles. My mother (Elizabeth) had just graduated from UCLA as an art major. She was working at this ad agency when she heard about a hotshot illustrator (Charles Wysocki) that was coming in to do some freelance work for them. Well, when they met, it was love at first site. My mother’s family was one of the firsts to settle in the San Fernando Valley. My father was enamoured by the simplicity of this farm life and wholesome values. This was a major turning point for my father. This influence is what started his whole primitive style that we all know and love. Just think what would have happened if he would have met the wrong lady. Yikes! My parents were married three months after they met, in July 1960. Don’t worry, their first child was not born for another five years. This wasn’t a shotgun marriage. During this time my parents made several trips to the East Coast. They went antique shopping and visited places such as Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Boston, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. At this time, commercial art was becoming a lot less interesting for Charles.
In the early 1960’s my father was raking in the money as a commercial artist, but his heart was in the primitive style. At night and on the weekends, he worked on his Americana/primitive paintings. After my father did a one-man show at which he sold every painting in this style, he decided to leave commercial art for good and just focus on his Americana art. For most of the 1960’s he made a good living off of the original paintings he sold. He also published greeting cards through Duncan Macintosh and posters through The Bernard Picture Company. During this time my parents had three children. David was born in 1965, Millicent in 1967, and me (Matthew) in 1969. It is also during this time that they moved from Los Angeles to Lake Arrowhead. As a matter of fact I was born in Lake Arrowhead. All was going pretty well, but it was about to get better.
In 1972 my father started his relationship with AMCAL. Together they published the first Americana Calendar. It has been in production ever since. AMCAL has been licensing his images on various products for close to 30 years. Some of these products include: puzzles, collector plates, trivets, serving trays, popcorn tins, cards, sculptures, magnets, wallpaper, blankets, mugs, photo frames, stamps, and T-shirts to name a few. Then in 1979, Charles published his first limited edition print “Fox Run” with The Greenwich Workshop. His published numerous prints with them during this time from 1979-1993. He also traveled around the country and made personal appearances at galleries all over the United States. Charles won many awards for his work including one he is most proud of, receiving the medal of honor from the National Society Daughter’s of the American Revolution, the society’s highest national honor. Charles also published two books during this time, “An American Celebration” in 1985 and “Heartland” in 1993. He also appeared in People magazine July 7, 1986, and was invited to the White House Independence Day celebration in 1981 (for which he did a painting that supposedly still hangs there). Then he needed a break.
In 1993 Charles went from working for two different publishers (AMCAL and The Greenwich Workshop) to just working for AMCAL. His schedule was too stressful, and the deadlines too severe to really enjoy himself. Being the perfectionist he is, his paintings never suffered, but he was working 15 hour days, six days a week. Enough! He published all his items through AMCAL, including his limited edition prints from 1994-1999. During this five-year period he produced some of his most treasured pieces. Four in the cat series (Mabel, Maggie, Max and Elmer and Loretta) as well as such pieces as Olde Bucks County, Hound of the Baskervilles, and the list goes on. It was also during this time that he opened his own gallery in his hometown of Lake Arrowhead. He produced his first canvas transfers starting in 1995 as well. Wow, what a great life so far. During this time, Charles was still painting, but now only 4 or 5 paintings a year. The paintings that he was working on now were one’s that he had been putting off for years. These latest ones are true masterpieces in every sense. All of his later paintings are made into limited edition prints and/or canvas transfers. He has currently been publishing his limited edition prints and canvas transfers with Hadley House since 1999. AMCAL still does all of his licensing. During this time he usually did signings at his gallery twice a year, in July and November, but had given up traveling the gallery circuit. Now he painted what he wanted, at his own pace, and spent time with his family and friends, and got to see all the movies he wanted. Being semi-retired never felt so good!
Charles painted his whole life, and up to his death at the age of 73. He died July 29th, 2002 surrounded by family. It was also his 42nd wedding anniversary. He will be sorely missed by many, but his artwork will live on. He is survived by his wife (my mother), Elizabeth, his three children, David, Millie, Matt, and his two grandchildren Emily, and Jackson.
Hickoryhaven Canal By Charles Wysocki
Salty Witch Bay By Charles Wysocki